Complete with a six megapixel sensor, 12x zoom and an image stabiliser, Canon's PowerShot S3 IS has all the features a photographer could want.

Running on AA batteries, it's not much bigger than a compact and comes with four batteries in the box. If you prefer rechargables, you can invest in a set of NiMH cells and a charger.

The 16MB card that comes with this camera will only let you store a handful of shots, so you will have to pay for a decent-sized card.

Picture quality is excellent and its real definition is almost on a par with the 10megapixel Panasonic. ­Taking macro shots isn't a problem with the flip out LCD on the back but the electronic viewfinder lacks size, definition and colour ­saturation.

The PowerShot is surprisingly clutchable and it's matt finish and rubberised grip make it less slippery.The controls are smart, but take some getting used to. Press the Func button to show a menu of common settings and you may struggle to get rid of it.

The Canon's image ­stabiliser is on hand to help unsteady hands.

Overall, this camera may be pint-sized, but can pack a punch, with consistently good performance in all ­weather conditions.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 £330

The FZ50 has a 10 megapixel sensor, 12x zoom image stabiliser and good control, but picture quality can be a let down. At low ISOs, they're fine, but don't go beyonISO 400 and certainly not up to its 1600 setting.

Kodak EasyShare Z612

The Z612 has a 12x zoom with image stabiliser. You get plenty for your money with a built-in 32MB, but the plastic silver finish doesn't do it many favours. Picture quality is rather suspect and even at ISO 400 detail begins to be swallowed up.

Fujifilm FinePix S6500fd, £215

This camera comes across as a class act. The start up bundle is affordable, but the four alkaline AAs and 16MB xD card included aren't great. The controls are easy to learn. It's a lovely camera but beaten by the Canon on picture quality.